"…Nearly a quarter-century ago, in an interview with me, a top official of the Orthodox Union derided the appearance of a category of meat he called 'Satmar super glatt.' By then, there was already a growing demand for glatt kosher meat and, he said, Satmar purveyors sought to capitalize on this by arbitrarily redefining glatt, so that a 'smooth' lung now could have some adhesions. 'Super glatt' was meant for Satmar consumers; the rest of us were being sold 'not-glatt' [under the name of glatt – i.e., the Satmar meat with adhesions; the truly glatt Satmar meat was sold to Satmar butcher shops and providers almost exclusively].…"
Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer writes:
…“Glatt” is Yiddish for “smooth,” and refers only to the lungs of an animal. When Rabbi Yosef Karo (the “Beit Yosef”) wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the definitive Jewish law code (for which he is also known as the M’chaber, or “author”), he relied on talmudic precedent to rule that an animal’s lungs had to be completely free of “sirchot,” adhesions, that could indicate hidden problems that would render the animal unfit for kosher use. The lung had to be “chalak,” the Hebrew equivalent for glatt.
Karo, however, was a S’fardi and Ashkenazi practice often differed from what S’fardim do, including in this instance. To accommodate Ashkenazi practice, Rabbi Moses Isserles (the Rema, his acronym) added a gloss to Karo’s work, making it the definitive law code, because it now served both traditions. Regarding meat, Isserles offered a leniency (based on minority opinions in the Talmud). Ashkenazim, he said, could eat meat that contained up to three sirchot, provided each sirchah could be removed by hand without causing a tear in the lung. This meat was considered “stam kosher,” meaning “ordinary kosher,” although “barely kosher” is more accurate. The Rema made it clear that he was not comfortable with his ruling, but that he had no choice, because Ashkenazi acceptance of stam kosher was too well established by then.
Put another way, Isserles actually agreed with Karo, but realized his hands were tied.
Okay, so back to the glatt glut. Do the math. Only about 5 percent of all cattle have lungs that are free from any adhesions whatsoever, much less removable ones.
About 35 million cows are slaughtered annually in the United States. That means that only about 1.75 million will have totally smooth lungs. Because it is impossible to know whether a cow’s lungs are smooth before it is slaughtered, most of those 1.75 million potential glatt meat producers do not end up in the kosher market.
There is more. Only between 40 percent and 50 percent of each cow slaughtered is edible, in any case. The average weight of a cow is about 1,300 pounds, so only about 650 pounds are edible per cow. For the kosher consumer, only the front half of a cow may be eaten. So that means that a 1,300 pound cow produces only about 325 pounds of meat that could be considered kosher. Again, most of that meat does not end up in the kosher market.
So where is all the glatt meat coming from that is being sold in our kosher markets?
It is coming from certification sleight of hand.
Nearly a quarter-century ago, in an interview with me, a top official of the Orthodox Union derided the appearance of a category of meat he called “Satmar super glatt.” By then, there was already a growing demand for glatt kosher meat and, he said, Satmar purveyors sought to capitalize on this by arbitrarily redefining glatt, so that a “smooth” lung now could have some adhesions. “Super glatt” was meant for Satmar consumers; the rest of us were being sold “not-glatt” [under the name of glatt – i.e., the Satmar meat with adhesions; the truly glatt Satmar meat was sold to Satmar butcher shops and providers almost exclusively].
This official also told me of the extraordinary effort the OU had undertaken to keep a glatt kosher purveyor of meats, 999, in business when it was unable to find enough glatt kosher meat to produce its products. The OU worked the phones for nearly six months to locate enough steers for 999 to keep going. The OU, he said, would never resort to redefining glatt.
Only, it did redefine glatt, and it was not alone. Soon, nearly everyone was redefining glatt to a lower standard in order to accommodate the growing demand for glatt kosher meat.
Yet where did this demand come from, considering that for Ashkenazi Jews glatt kosher was not a requirement since the mid-16th century and apparently long before then?
It came from the group I call the “chumrah of the month club,” chumrah being the Hebrew word for stringency. To prove that you are truly observant, the “club” says, you have to go far to the right of acceptable practice. Where keeping kosher is concerned, that means buying glatt kosher meat only.
How chumrot originate and are spread are a mystery, but it is almost certain that those who created the glatt chumrah knew when they did so that there was not enough true glatt around to satisfy the need; 999’s dilemma alone would have told them that.
The problem is not resolvable by simply saying that it is okay to eat meat that is just “kosher” (“stam kosher”). That is because when glatt was redefined, so was “kosher” redefined, and today it probably straddles the category of “questionably kosher” (“safek kosher”).
Kosher-consuming Ashkenazi Jews are paying more for something they do not need and are not getting in any case.…